Collaborative research

Print edition : January 25, 2013

THE Research and Innovation Centre (RIC) is a joint initiative of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Institute of Technology-Madras to do “directed research” in areas relevant to the DRDO’s requirements. It was inaugurated by V.K. Saraswat, Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister and DRDO Director-General, on December 28, 2012. The RIC has been set up in the Research Park of IIT-Madras in Taramani, Chennai. It will occupy 36,594 square feet in a multi-storeyed building of the Research Park. DRDO engineers and IIT-Madras faculty will do collaborative research in the RIC in cutting-edge technologies such as image-processing, voice recognition, piezo electric devices, silicon nano-photonics, combustion instability in gas turbine engines, cyber security, and nano-aluminium-based solid propellants.

Saraswat said the RIC would basically do application-oriented research relevant to the DRDO’s requirements such as contactless wars which might be the order of the day in the 2040s, and image processing, which would have commercial spin-off in several areas. The DRDO has allotted Rs.47 crore for the RIC, which will have sophisticated equipment for doing “directed research”. The RIC will identify technologies/innovations that have potential for commercial ventures.

Saraswat said he had discussed the setting up of the RIC with M.S. Ananth, former Director of IIT-Madras, three years ago. The idea that the DRDO could do collaborative research with academic institutions originally came from former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam when he was the Director of Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), Hyderabad. He had envisaged the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme in 1983. Kalam’s suggestion led to the founding of the Advanced Research Centre, a joint initiative of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and the DRDO. From this initiative, the DRDO did 30 to 40 projects relating to image processing, missile guidance, re-entry systems and so on, which produced good results for the DRDO for about 15 years. The Advanced Research Centre worked until recently. “But we learnt our lessons to assess the research requirement relevant to applications”, Saraswat said. “So the RIC was born.”

The RIC would enable physical co-location of DRDO scientists and faculty and students from IIT-Madras and other nearby universities to do intense research, said Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director, IIT-Madras. Co-location would help to cut through various hurdles encountered in the past. “If we are in different locations, we will not be in regular contact. If we are in the same building, the impact will be different,” he said. IIT-Madras has already collaborated with DRDO in the launch of K-15, the missile launched from under water, he said.

The building where the RIC had been set up had 50 Indian companies doing research in areas such as voice-based recognition, wireless communication, and health care, Ramamurthi said. This building formed the first phase of the Research Park; construction of two more buildings will be completed in the second phase in 2014. Since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced 2010-20 as the decade of innovation for the country, IIT-Madras has established the Research Park to foster innovation, create infrastructure necessary for competitive research and development, and facilitate networking with professionals for incubate companies.

Image processing was one of the key areas in which research will be undertaken by the RIC, according to Saraswat and Ramamurthi. The technology of image processing had advanced by leaps and bounds, Saraswat said. The DRDO’s interest in image processing began when it started developing the anti-tank missile Nag in the 1980s. In future, the DRDO will depend on image processing in a big way in unmanned aerial vehicles, robots that would fight wars, interceptor missiles, and so on. Image processing has become important in medical applications and material analysis. Image processing is important in an interceptor missile to find the exact position of the the nuclear warhead in an incoming enemy ballistic missile.

Science, innovation and technology will congregate at the RIC, says V. Ramanujachari, Director, RIC. The other areas where the RIC will undertake research are semi-conductor devices, tracked vehicle systems, modelling and simulation of microstructure of materials, chip-design for avionics, and so on.

By a Special Correspondent